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Longevity Lessons We Can Learn from Centenarians in the Blue Zones

A group of elderly men gather on a stoop.

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Living longer is easier said than done. Longevity tips are often painted in broad brushstrokes: eat a healthy diet, exercise, avoid smoking, etc. How vague and unhelpful. Isn’t there anything more specific? Thankfully, there is; researchers say we can look toward the Blue Zones—regions in the world that contain extremely high rates of centenarians (people who are one hundred or more years old)—for guidance. Adopt the following Blue Zone characteristics, and you may add years to your life.

#1: Build movement into your daily routine

Surprisingly, people in Blue Zones don't stick to a formal, structured exercise routine; they prioritize natural movement. For example, they may choose to remove leaves from their yards with a rake instead of a powerful leaf blower. Note: don't use this as an excuse to stop exercising! Instead, the takeaway here is you need to find natural ways to move more in your daily life, like:

  •   Parking further from the entrance at work (or any destination)
  •   Cleaning your house more regularly
  •   Kneading dough or stirring things by hand versus an electric mixer

#2: Cultivate a sense of purpose 

People in Blue Zones tend to have a life purpose. But what if you don’t have one? Well, here are two good places to start. First, explore your passions and interests; think about what you’re good at and enjoy doing. Second, go out and meet new people—start conversations with them. This could open your eyes (and mind) to activities, causes, or career opportunities you never even knew existed.

#3: Join a faith-based community

Nearly all the centenarians in the Blue Zones belong to some faith-based community. This 2018 study shows that individuals who regularly attend religious services live about 4.8 years longer than those who don’t. So, take this as a sign to reconnect with an old faith or embrace a new one (note: research shows denomination doesn’t matter!).

#4: Manage your stress levels

Yes, even centenarians in the Blue Zones experience stress, a known contributor to higher mortality rates in a dose-response pattern. However, the difference between them and their younger counterparts appears to be their commitment to an effective daily stress-relieving routine. Examples of stress-relieving techniques you could leverage include meditation, yoga, and aromatherapy.

#5: Stop eating once you’re 80% full 

Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for longevity. And it appears people in the Blue Zones have discovered a "trick" to managing their food intake without counting calories: they only eat till they’re 80% full. So, how can you apply this to your life? Here are two tips:

  • Practice mindfulness during meals: Since your brain can take up to 20 minutes to recognize you’re full, eating slowly and mindfully can help you better recognize your fullness cues, enabling better food intake management.
  • Eat heavier breakfasts and lunches, then go light with your dinners: View dinners as a treat at the end of the day. Instead of an all-you-can-eat buffet, opt for light dinner options like salads, stuffed peppers, and steamed fish. As an added bonus, this will help you avoid indigestion and heartburn when you’re trying to fall asleep.

#6: Consider following a plant-rich diet 

Diets in the Blue Zones are typically biased toward plant-based foods, including vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts. People in the Blue Zones are also known to limit their meat consumption to an average of only five times a month. Thinking of sticking to a more plant-based diet? Start slow. Research shows you're more likely to succeed at making behavior changes when you do so gradually. Start by adding more plant-based foods to your diet. Then try meatless Mondays (and, once you’re ready, Tuesdays, Wednesdays…and so on).

#7: Put your closest and dearest first 

People with strong social connections live longer and healthier lives. And you can bet that those in the Blue Zones know it; that’s why they always put their loved ones first by:

  • Committing to a life partner
  • Keeping children and aging parents near
  • Spending quality time with their friends and family

#8: Choose your inner circle of friends wisely 

Our friends constantly influence our health choices. This is why centenarians choose social circles that'll support longevity-enabling lifestyle habits (e.g., not smoking or drinking excessively). So take a close look at your friends. Are they good for you? Or are they making you behave in a way that isn’t beneficial for your lifespan? It may be time for a social circle overhaul if it's the latter.

Beyond simply living longer, though, we should also ensure we do so with purpose and grace. Here are a few articles that could help you with that:

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